Residents get virtual views of light-rail line from Durham to Chapel Hill

jwise@newsobserver.comNovember 14, 2013 

  • What’s next

    Videos and other information on the Durham-Orange light-rail project are available at bit.ly/b3k21k.

    Triangle Transit is preparing an environmental-impact report for the Federal Transit Administration ( fta.dot.gov), which is required to apply for federal grant funding. A draft report is anticipated to be available for public comment by the end of 2014.

    Comments on the project are welcome. Send to Cyndy Yu-Robinson, Our Transit Future, Box 530, Morrisville 27560, email infor@ourtransitfuture.com.

  • Money

    Triangle Transit has begun investigating alternative sources of money for the Durham-Orange light-rail line in case some assumptions in the adopted plan don’t turn out.

    “We thought it would be prudent,” TTA General Manager David King said last week.

    Building the 17.2-mile Durham-Orange light-rail line is projected to cost $1.4 billion, with 25 percent of that money coming from local fees and taxes, including the half-cent transit sales tax voters have approved in both counties.

    The plan assumes the other 75 percent would come from the state DOT (25 percent) and the Federal Transit Administration (50 percent).

    Potential sources King mentioned include federal loan programs, which “have a lot of capacity” to help, King said; special tax districts, local lenders and various others. One transit project in Denver, he said, had federal and state money to work with but also more than 25 smaller, local sources that covered 30 percent of the cost.

    “Over the next year or so we’re going to try to get some good advice on which of those techniques or all, perhaps, are relevant to our situation here,” King said.

    “If one simply looks at the Congress and the way they’ve been handling their responsibilities,” he said, “then (it appears) we need to be prepared for not everything happening on a schedule that is predicable and one can count on.”

Triangle Transit gave its public a virtual view of the planned light-rail line between Durham and Chapel Hill in three project update sessions last week.

Video monitors played simulations of flying over the route from UNC Hospitals to Alston Avenue, with project consultants and Triangle Transit staff on hand to answer questions and change the views from overhead to track level, and from the tracks to their surroundings as they might appear when the line is built.

“I wish everybody in my (neighborhood) association could see this,” said Durham resident Don Lebkes. “Fantastic.”

Display boards provided information both general, such as comparisons of light rail with other forms of mass transit, and detailed, such as alternatives for routing tracks through or past envinronmentally sensitive places. The “fly-through” video and other information from the meetings were to be posted on the project website, bit.ly/b3k21k, by the end of last week.

The meetings were part of an environmental-impact “scoping” process required of transit projects applying for federal grants.

“We do have the potential to have a significant impact on the environment,” said Jeff Weisner with the Morrisville engineering consultants URS Corp.

That impact, he said, includes effects on streams and wetlands and the life they support, as well as those on human communities such as noise and “equity.”

“Are we going to be serving all our populations equally?” he said.

The three update sessions were meant to reach three different populations, with one held in downtown Durham, one in the suburbs between the cities and one in Chapel Hill.

“I’m backing it,” said Durham resident Stan Bukowski. “I welcome this. It’s tying everything together.”

The planned light-rail route goes from UNC Hospitals to East Durham by way of the Friday Center, the Interstate 40 corridor, the Patterson Place and South Square areas, Duke Medical Center and downtown Durham with 17 stations planned and four-car trains running at five-minute intervals.

Some of those at the updates told transit planners they thought buses were a better vehicle than light rail, said consultant Gavin Poindexter, but most comments and questions had to do with the line’s effects on their own lives day to day: access, street blocking, whether it would be useful to them.

“Trying to understand what it would mean,” Poindexter said.

Resident Helen Fischer said the rail service will appeal to residents moving to Durham and Chapel Hill from cities where public transit is established and heavily used.

“People moving to the area are thinking about public transit, and maybe giving up their cars,” she said.

Weisner said a draft environmental-impact report should be ready for public comment by the end of 2014, with a final draft for the Federal Transit Administration a year later.

According to Triangle Transit’s timeline, construction could start in 2019 with completion by 2026.

“This is for our grandchildren,” Lebkes said.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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